At cost of families, China manages public emotions

By Didi Tang , AP

SHANGHAI–Some wailed and some staggered with grief as the relatives of the 36 people killed in Shanghai’s New Year’s Eve stampede visited the disaster site Tuesday for seventh-day commemorations that are a revered ritual in China.

But each family was allowed to stay only about five minutes in the tightly managed visits, and government workers roughly dragged away one middle-aged woman when she began crying out emotionally.

The government’s strict arrangements reflect efforts to keep tight controls over the disaster’s aftermath and prevent distraught relatives from coalescing into a critical group that would draw sympathy and galvanize public calls for greater accountability.

��Such a major public safety incident can tug the heartstrings of the public, and the acts and words by victims’ relatives can make the public sentiments swing, making it a key task for authorities to control the families, limiting their contacts with each other or with the media,�� said Zhao Chu, a Shanghai-based independent commentator.

��Struck by the same tragedy, the relatives can easily resonate with each other, and it’s only natural they want to band together to take collective actions and make collective appeals to the public, and that could mean the authorities losing control over the social sentiments.��

The authorities’ grip over social sentiments comes at the expense of the victims’ families, Zhao said. ��The method is brusque toward the families, preventing them from resorting to law and to the media, but �X in a positive way �X it can indeed alleviate the shock to the public.��